PG-13. You know, for a movie where no one actually gets shot, I associate the first Mission: Impossible movie with blood. I mean, one of the main character rubs blood all over himself. Also, there's something oddly sexual about the movie. Yeah, nothing is actually shown, but there's, like, tumbling and stuff. It's weird. I saw the movie in 1996 and I was very impressionable. It's a fairly tame movie, unless you are a rat. Then it is just a horror movie. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Brian DePalma
I'm just going to frontload this: this is my friend Derek's favorite movie. Like, of ever. He's probably going to say that it is not just to highroad this review, but he's honestly obsessed with it. He walked around in high school with homemade red and green bubble gum, spouting, "Hasta lasagna, don't get any on ya," before miming an explosion with his hands. He's obsessed. Any criticism I have of this movie will be quickly extinguished under the swift justice of his law professorhood. He's a far more revered author than I ever plan to be, so all this is moot when it becomes discredited for not being positive enough, regardless of how much I praise it.
It's a pretty good movie. I've always been a Bond guy. In an era of Bonds, Bournes, Hunts, and...um...Englishes (?), I didn't realize that there is a contention. Yeah, I'll see most of those other franchises. (Okay, I'm really burned out on the Bourne movies, but you get it.) But people definitely have a preference. The odd thing is that I'm really excited about the Mission: Impossible movies. (Odd fun fact about Derek: he refuses to get excited about any sequels. The only one that counts is the first one. Yeah, he even didn't care about the Brad Bird one.) The first movie is actually super weird when I think about it. It doesn't feel like the beginning of a franchise. Think about about long they have been making Mission: Impossible movies. This movie came out in 1996. 22 years of Mission: Impossible films all starring the same guy. Yeah, he looks like kind of a baby in this one, but I really get the vibe Brian DePalma just wanted to make a spy-fy movie. I might get into spoilers later, but watching this movie doesn't feel like a world building thing. The tie to the original show, that I can recognize at least, is the IMF in general, Jim Phelps, and the whole "Your mission, should you choose to accept it" with the disintegrating tape. It also has the theme song. But this isn't a continuation in the traditional sense. I don't think the mythology on the original show was all that heavy, so it isn't shocking, but I can also say that this movie gets significantly darker than anything that the television program presented. LIGHT SPOILER: Most of the team are brutally killed within the first act of the movie. I mean, Emilio's death is pretty intense. Yeah, it doesn't show it, but it really didn't need to. It was gory enough in my head without any actual on camera murder. Tonally, this feels closer to DePalma's other work (despite the PG-13 rating) than it does the television program. This might be the smartest choice because this kind of establishes a precedent very quickly. Because the original Mission: Impossible is extremely hard to sequelize as is, the idea of the director establishing the tone makes each movie wholly unique. Eventually, that started to drop off because the character is required to do oh-so-many things to establish it as a Mission: Impossible movie. (Tom Cruise having to rappel off of things is getting a bit much.) But Mission: Impossible 2 aside, those movies are extremely fun to watch and feel kind of different from each other. Considering that I just reviewed The Man with the Golden Gun, it is refreshing to think that they made these movies to all be different. I think that's why Cruise keeps coming back for them, outside the fact that these movies always put him in the spotlight whenever he needs a career boost.
The original Mission: Impossible is also welcomingly complex. I like a good spy movie that really ties most of the story together. LIGHT TO HEAVY SPOILERS: 1996 is starting to look a little dated though. It is in the heavy 1996 version of the Internet where I don't necessarily understand everything that is going on in the movie. I mean, I get the loose idea of behind it. Criminal weapons dealer Max was dealing with a mercenary named Job in a Book of Job usenet group (a 1996 subreddit). But why is the CIA / IMF dropping the term "Job 314" to Ethan Hunt if they didn't know about the Usenet group or didn't want Ethan knowing about the usenet group. (Also, let's establish that it is a stretch to think that Ethan Hunt would find Max from that little hint.) Then Ethan wanted to meet the real Job? Also, the Bible telling Ethan if the goods were fake or tainted doesn't really scan. Was the CIA being cheeky when they hid the message of the goods being fake based on a Bible verse? Why would they give Max a clue that there was something wrong with the package? I don't get it. Also, how is Jean Reno involved in all of this? Maybe I don't understand everything in the movie. But the rest of the movie is pretty great. What's really odd about the plot is that the story is full of action. I mean, there's some amazing sequences. This rappelling sequence still works extremely well. Everyone was twitching and nervous in the group and that means that, even though that scene is now famous, there is a solid degree of anticipation built in. But the story is actually pretty slowly paced. Really, the movie allows quite a bit of actual spying to happen before it gets to its major action set pieces. It gives those moments a bit of leeway. Instead of action sequence after action sequences, making those moments mean less, the exposition and character development actually builds. Watching Ethan Hunt in the first scene to the last scene is actually interesting. While Tom Cruise might not be knocking it out of the park with this performance (I have nothing against the man and actually like him in a lot of things I see), Ethan is fundamentally a different person by the end of the movie. It's actually odd to see him slide into that leadership role for the future movies because he's kind of earned it. I feel like the first movie is actually a great origin picture. He knows that he has been trained to be an agent, but I feel like this story is the first mission that has forced him to improvise on the scale he has done. He has gone from the tool to the one who uses the tools. That's pretty great storytelling.
HEAVY SPOILER: The gutsiest thing I have seen a movie do is the Jim Phelps reveal. Paramount released this movie, playing up that they had acquired licensing to a quasi-beloved TV series. For example, when the Star Trek films were being made, it was a response to a fanbase needing more of these stories, thereby raising awareness with a studio that wants to make money off of that. Now, imagine that the first Star Trek movie comes out and you find out that James T. Kirk is the bad guy of the movie. He's gonna die a horrible death and a new kid is going to take over. Honestly, it is absolutely bizarre that Jim Phelps is the bad guy in this movie. It soils the character. If you loved that character, there's no apology for his actions. Phelps is an old man in this movie and sick of living the spy life. The movie starts off with Phelps dying, which is not completely impossible for a film to do. I commented on Star Trek and that was the plan for the original Star Trek. Kirk was going to retire and Captain Dekker was going to take over. Okay, that's fine. I'm sure that the fans would have been angry that Phelps would have died by being shot and falling off a bridge, but it happens. But then making him the bad guy is just insane. Yet, I don't know if there is a large community calling for this to be retconned or repaired. I know that the original cast of the show was going to appear in this movie, but were upset with how Jim Phelps and the old team would have been treated. I can't really blame them. They were heroes. Also, I'm thinking about how many people who watched the original show were kids. I mean, Mission: Impossible the film is hardly a kids' movie. I mentioned that it is PG-13, but it is pretty intense. I don't think a lot of the audience gets that Jim Phelps was the hero of the show. This kind of leads me back to the Paramount perspective. Did they just gamble extremely well? Most of the fans of the movie are wholly new audiences. I guess they did the same with the new Star Trek. My buddy Bob actually really hates the new Star Trek movies because he was such a fan of the show. I don't know how it works with Mission: Impossible, but it ties back into my thesis that the reason that the movie works so well is that it seems like Brian DePalma just wanted to make the best movie he possibly could. I love the twist. It's the one character you think can't do it and he does it. That's fantastic.
I will always have a special place in my heart for the Bond films, as outdated as they are. (It's odd that sequence in GoldenEye exists because it seems like that applies more now than it did then.) But I get really excited for the Mission: Impossible movies. I kind of want to binge them all before seeing the new one. I know I don't have the time (or actually the access) to do this, but the first movie is such a solid entry, I'm willing to watch Mission: Impossible 2, one of my least favorite movies. I don't know if it is the amazing movie that Derek thinks it is, but I do like it quite a bit.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.